I was recently given the opportunity to review a new novel, Surrounded By Water by Stephanie Butland. The story starts after a well-liked policeman rescues a girl from drowning, only to drown himself. What comes afterwards is a story of betrayal, gossip and false impressions and I was utterly hooked. I was, of course, delighted to take part in the book’s blog tour! I’m also really happy to be able to offer one reader (UK only) a signed copy- simply leave me a comment with an email address and/or your Twitter handle and I’ll draw a winner next Saturday. Simple, right?
I’m delighted to say that I managed to grab an email interview with Stephanie about her writing process (big cheer for NaNoWriMo!) and other author-ly pursuits. Previously, Stephanie wrote two books about her experience with cancer, although Surrounded By Water is her first novel.
1. Where did the idea for Surrounded by Water come from?
This book started life as a NaNoWriMo project – a comic novel about a committee trying to persuade the council to put up a fence after a drowning accident. An early reader suggested ditching the committee structure; as soon as I did, the real story, of how and why the accident had happened, emerged.
2. Was writing/publishing a novel easier/scarier/harder than writing non-fiction?
Much scarier! I When I wrote non-fiction about my dance with breast cancer, I knew that, even if people didn’t like the books, or my approach to the disease, I was sharing my own experience, and that gave a sort of protection. With fiction I’m sharing something that I’ve made, and I feel much more vulnerable about it. I really thought it would be the other way round.
3. How has your previous writing influenced Surrounded by Water?
I blogged all the way through my dance with cancer, and that experience taught me a great deal. I learned that words don’t write themselves, that readers can smell what’s inauthentic, and that the process of writing is, basically, about showing up and getting on with it. My experience of having the first two books edited showed me that I needed to weigh words carefully and to value my readers’ time as well as my own.
4. What are your top five must read novels?
Oooh. Well, I think this would change if you asked me next week, because picking 5 books is impossible…. but, with that caveat, I recommend:
‘A Suitable Boy’ by Vikram Seth for scale, emotional involvement and beautiful writing
‘A Tale For The Time Being’ by Ruth Ozeki for its clever storytelling and delightful narrator
”Bel Canto’ by Ann Patchett for sheer truth and emotional impact
‘Fingersmith’ by Sarah Waters for dazzling twisty-turny plot – I think it’s the only book I’ve ever read that has made me gasp and put my hand to my mouth!
‘The House Of Mirth’ by Edith Wharton for wit and wisdom and the brilliance of the main character, Lily Bart
5. What advice would you offer to would-be novelists?
If you really want to write, write. Make time – small pockets of time if you have to. Give up soap operas or cleaning the car, or make a deal with someone about shared school runs. If you have a day job – and most writers do – go to bed earlier and get up earlier so you have some undisturbed time. No-one ever writes a book because they have nothing else to do. If you go on to Twitter at 5am it’s full of writers who’ve got up early to get 500 words in before work (while faffing about on Twitter, another essential part of writing life). You can worry about agents and publishers and platforms once you have something for those agents and publishers and platforms to engage with.
Check out Stephanie’s website here. Surrounded By Water is available to buy now- I’ll be reviewing it in my end-of-month reading round up.